North Star resourcesA new resource of the Leddy Library provides a gateway to materials of local Black history.

Black history portal showcases local resources

The Leddy Library is launching a new resource that provides a single-entry point to a host of existing Black history resources. “North Star: A Portal for Black History in Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent” serves as a gateway to exhibits, historic local landmarks, published works, archival materials, and educational resources, consolidating decades of collaborative research efforts into a single, user-friendly platform.

“Over the past decade or so, the team at Leddy Library has collaborated with historians and Black community members on several grant-funded digital exhibit projects that showcase Black history in Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent, and we created this portal to make them more accessible to the community,” said the library’s archivist, Sarah Glassford.

The portal brings together existing Black history projects such as Breaking the Colour Barrier: Wilfred “Boomer” Harding & the Chatham Coloured All-Stars, The North was Our Canaan: Exploring Sandwich Town's Underground Railroad History, Across the River to Freedom: Early Black History in Sandwich, Ontario and We Were Here: Recovering the Stories of Windsor's McDougall Street Corridor. It also points to rare books and archival materials that are housed in Leddy Library’s Archives & Special Collections as well as local areas of historic significance.

In collaboration with the Essex County Black Historical Research Society, the library began the development of the portal in 2023 and was supported by the University of Windsor SSHRC Explore grant which provided funds to hire a graduate student.

Willow Key, a researcher completing her final year of master’s studies in history, was selected to help conceive the portal, specifically its design and purpose. In addition, she compiled research and resources to create a detailed annotated bibliography for students, community members, and researchers to locate resources related to Black history and community in Southwestern Ontario.

“A portal such as this will hopefully encourage residents, researchers, and students to explore the many digital and in-person resources that are currently available to the public and spark interest in the amazing work being done to preserve and promote Black history in the region,” said Key. “I hope this portal serves the community as a tool to further support family genealogical projects, independent research, or planning a day to visit important museums and sites.”

The title “North Star” was chosen as it pays homage to the region’s role as a terminus on the Underground Railroad, when 19th-century African-American freedom-seekers followed the star Polaris on their perilous journey north to freedom from slavery.

“We envision North Star as not only a repository of past narratives but also as a catalyst for ongoing dialogue and discovery,” added librarian Heidi Jacobs. “By spotlighting the remarkable efforts of local historians, educators, and community activists, we aim to ignite a renewed sense of appreciation for our shared heritage and encourage future generations to champion inclusivity and social justice.”

Glassford hopes the portal will help direct users to the existing collection of Black history resources and learning opportunities in Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent and showcase the wide array of people, places, and resources that tell the stories of African-descended peoples in the region.

“We want to support and highlight the great work that has already been done, make it easy for people to find it, and encourage ongoing research and engagement with these stories in the future.”

Explore “North Star: A Portal for Black History in Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent” online.